The 4-2 Atlanta Hawks will host the 6-1 Miami Heat on Thursday night, but the Heat may be without two members of their superstar triumvirate. Both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are questionable with injuries, meaning the Heat may have to push forward with just Chris Bosh and the supporting cast.
Miami has gotten off to a fantastic start this season, even with Wade banged up for much of it. They rank first in the league in scoring with over 108 points per game and seem determined to make up for losing in the NBA Finals last season.
The Hawks are a perennial playoff contender in the Eastern Conference and that looks to be true once again this season as they have looked pretty impressive. In fact, they are the only team to hand the Heat a loss this season, beating them 100-92 on Monday. That came even with the Heat having a full complement of stars in the lineup.
Much of this game's result will have to do with whether James and/or Wade can suit up. If both or even one of them can, then the Heat likely will have a decided advantage. If not, though, the Hawks could very well beat the Heat for the second time this week.
Where: Philips Arena in Atlanta, Ga.
When: Thursday, Jan. 5 at 8 p.m. EST
Live Stream: NBA League Pass
Listen: 790 AM The Ticket (Miami) and 790 AM The Zone (Atlanta)
Betting Line: Miami (-2)
Heat Key Injuries (According to CBS Sports)
Out: C Eddy Curry (hip flexor), SF Mike Miller (hernia)
Questionable: C Mickell Gladness (foot), SF LeBron James (ankle), SG Dwyane Wade (foot)
Hawks Key Injuries (According to CBS Sports)
Out: PG Kirk Hinrich (shoulder)
Probable: SG Tracy McGrady (knee)
What's at Stake?
At this early juncture of the season and with both teams looking quite good, a loss wouldn't really hurt either squad. With that said, though, a win would probably be a pretty big deal for the Hawks. Atlanta has long been looked at as the Eastern Conference team that is good, but not good enough to be mentioned with the likes of the Heat, Chicago Bulls and Boston Celtics.
A victory over Miami would give the Hawks two such wins on the season and would have to put them on the radar as a potential contender. At the same time, if the Heat are without both Wade and James, a win could do wonders for them as well, especially since it would say a lot about the quality of the pieces around the superstars.
What They're Saying
Much of the talk surrounding this game is the health of two of the Heat's "Big Three" in the form of Dwyane Wade and LeBron James. Wade missed last game with a foot injury, while James injured his ankle against the Indiana Pacers. His status for tonight's game is in question, but James pretty much knows what he's dealing with:
"It’s OK right now," James said after the Heat’s 118-83 victory against the Pacers. "It’s always the next day. That’s the way you know how it’s going to be going forward. With this flight, it may swell a little bit on the plane.
"When you have as many sprained ankles as I have in my career, you know exactly what happens as soon as it happens," James said. "So I’m glad I was able to finish the game and we were able to get a quality win."
Heat Player to Watch: PF Chris Bosh
With both James and Wade either out or hobbled, the role of power forward Chris Bosh figures to be bigger than usual. Bosh is mentioned as a member of "Miami Thrice" but there is no question that James and Wade are considered to be bigger stars. When Bosh is on his game, though, he can be just as much of a dominant player.
Bosh has put up very solid numbers so far this season, averaging 19 points and eight rebounds per game. The most impressive thing about those numbers is that they haven't been erratic and he has been contributing on a nightly basis. If some combination of James and Wade have to sit, then Bosh should be the offensive focus and could have his biggest game of the season.
Hawks Player to Watch: SG Joe Johnson
Hawks veteran shooting guard didn't exactly produce at that rate that most fans have grown accustomed to last season, but he is still Atlanta's most dangerous offensive threat. He leads the team in scoring once again this year with 16 points per game, although his shooting efficiency continues to falter as he is shooting under 40 percent from the floor.
Johnson turned in a 21-point performance against the Heat last game and could play even better on Thursday if James and Wade are out. As much as James and Wade are celebrated for their offensive ability, they can both be lock-down defenders as well. The perimeter should be much softer for Johnson in this game, and it could lead to a monster performance.
Key Matchup: Joel Anthony vs. Al Horford
On a team with the likes of James, Wade and Bosh, it's easy to see why unsung center Joel Anthony is often a forgotten man. While he isn't going to score much, his defensive importance cannot be understated as he often has to deal with the league's premier interior players thanks to Bosh's deficiencies. That will likely be the case on Thursday as he must contend with Hawks big man Al Horford.
Horford is an All-Star who is among the more consistent young post players in the game. He has an array of moves in the paint and certainly isn't easy to control. That is precisely what Anthony will be faced with, though. If he can contain Horford to some degree, then Miami's chances of winning will increase exponentially, with or without James and Wade.
I expect Wade to sit and James to play as LeBron is quite used to dealing with ankle issues. Because of that, I give Miami a slight advantage in this one.
Heat 98, Hawks 95